By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
Every three years members of the United Nations are required to submit a report on human rights in their state.
The British press and TV are usually full of details about the reports on places like Sudan, Syria and Iran. You don’t hear so much about the UN reports on the UK.
The UN committee on human rights was not impressed by the latest British report.
Last month the committee criticised the British government on several counts.
These include the use of the Official Secrets Act “to frustrate former employees of the crown bringing into the public domain issues of genuine public interest”, and British libel laws which inhibit free speech and encourage “libel tourism”: wealthy people can travel to Britain from anywhere in the world and bring libel cases which would be thrown out in their own country.
Then there’s the Terrorism Act 2006 which is so all-embracing that it constitutes “a disproportionate interference with freedom of expression”. You can get seven years for “encouragement of terrorism”, which is whatever a court decides is encouragement of terrorism.
The Home Office response to the UN report was the usual arrogant dismissive rubbish you’d expect. “The UK has a proud record in human rights. We see the country reviews... as a process based on collaboration and co-operation, and above all, a commitment to improving human rights on the ground.”
Well, the UK did have a proud record in human rights, but it’s in the past tense in the nineteenth century when someone like Emile Zola could flee to Britain to avoid being sent to jail for libel, in his case for publishing his famous J’Accuse article exposing the French army and government’s collusion in persecuting the innocent Captain Dreyfus for espionage. Try that now and the British government would have Zola back to France in twenty-four hours.
Unfortunately the UN report simply demonstrates that far from “improving human rights on the ground”, whatever that means, this British government continues to undermine freedom of speech and deny justice in a range of issues.
You might think it’s because Tony Blair slavishly followed US foreign policy in the Middle East that Britain became a target for Al-Qaida and then had to follow the US in bringing in a raft of draconian
anti-terrorism laws. Not so. Britain was behaving badly long before the US dreamed up its totalitarian homeland security.
Three years ago the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the body which oversees the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), found that Britain has one of the worst human rights records up there with Turkey, Ukraine and Russia.
There are 47 signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights. In 2005 Britain had 107 guilty judgements, the sixth highest. To compound matters Britain didn’t bother dealing with many of the more serious guilty verdicts.
Six were of most concern to the Committee of Ministers and still haven’t been dealt with. They are, you’ve guessed it, the killing of Pat Finucane and five others including Pearse Jordan, shot in the back as he ran away from an RUC road check.
The British say they’ve set up inquiries to fulfil the requirements of the guilty verdict but the Committee of Ministers says it has received statements from members of the British judiciary who have sat on previous enquiries that “cast doubt on the capacity of an inquiry set under the 2005 Act to fulfill the procedural requirements of Article 2 [of the European Convention].”
That was three years ago and we’re still no further on. Nor are we ever going to be. On the contrary, this Labour government has thrashed around to find ways to subvert the Human Rights Act it brought in.
They have tried to derogate from the ECHR to detain terrorist suspects indefinitely, they’ve tried to abolish jury trials in a range of cases including shop-lifting and burglary, and of course they’ve introduced internment, albeit for twenty-eight days though they did try three months and are currently aiming for six weeks.
No, Britain had nothing to learn from the USA and didn’t need a threat from Al-Qaida for the authoritarian instincts of converted Marxists in this government to prevail.